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Morons in Music Stores, FootnotesTV

:: Alan Kellogg is one of my favorite local newspaper columnists (and a kind soul – he agreed to return with two Steely Dan t-shirts for me, when he saw them play at Roseland in NYC last September. You see, I had neglected to buy the shirts when I saw The Dan in concert at The Gorge in August, a few weeks earlier. But I digress…) Alan’s April 1st column analyzed the Federal Court ruling on downloading music in Canada. (Warning: the column will remain online for just one week, as the Edmonton Journal maintains a seven-day archive only. Very frustrating and annoying.) The point that hit home for me the hardest, however, wasn’t about the impact this ruling will have on the music industry, whose sales were heading downhill before Napster came into existence three years ago. Rather, it was Alan’s straightforward take on record stores:

“Many mall record stores are simply terrible, with limited stock and clueless staff“.

That was my emphasis on clueless staff, not Alan’s. I might add that the clueless staff are not restricted to mall record stores, either. Long before downloading caught on, I began noticing, probably in the mid-90s (slightly post-grunge) that service in A&B Sound and other Canadian chain stores was riding the down escalator – staff, when they weren’t busy comparing piercings and tattoos, could barely be bothered helping me find a record that wasn’t in the best seller racks. Such interactions usually ended with blank stares and shoulder shrugs.

“Do you have the new Oysterband album?” “Blue Oyster Cult?” “No, sorry, Oysterband?” “Prairie Oyster?” “Er, no, Oysterband, from the UK, played the folk festival in Edmonton 2 or 3 times?” Watching the staff member “helping” me, the expected shoulder shrugs would follow at that moment, and I might as well have been staring into the eyes of a chicken. Recently, a friend shared with me this story: A&B called him to tell him a CD he’d ordered had arrived. When he went to pick it up, they told him it wasn’t there. Welcome to Customer Service, 2004.

The music industry is in really, really bad shape right now. It has not come to grips with downloading, nor with the fact that is has been overpricing music for years while simultaneously releasing questionable product. Whoinhell wants to keep paying unreasonable prices for crappy music? The industry’s insistence on blaming downloading as the major reason for poor sales isn’t holding up under scholarly scrutiny: a study released this week by researchers at Harvard and U North Carolina indicates that file swapping and downloading has had little impact on the slide in CD sales over the past while:

“We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales,” the study’s authors wrote. “While downloads occur on a vast scale, most users are likely individuals who would not have bought the album even in the absence of file sharing.”

My own buying patterns have slowed down. Yes, I’ve downloaded some songs, but after an initial flurry in 2001-02, very little in the past 12 months or so. In fact, most of what I’ve downloaded is old material, some “out of print”, so to speak, and a lot of which I own already on vinyl, and want to either hear on my computer, or burn to CD for listening in the car. But another reason I cite for the change is the poor service offered by the chain stores like A&B. Add to that their own dwindling inventories because of declining sales. It’s a bad scene, and I have no solution for the mess it’s in.

April 2 update: Alan’s column in today’s Journal features an interview with Denise Donlon, CEO of Sony Music of Canada. Of note is the following:

“Upon leaving her old job as vice-president at MuchMusic, she declared her first priority at Sony was to aggressively promote new Canadian music.

‘It’s taken longer than I had hoped, because since the day I walked in the door it feels like we were dealing with these other pressing issues. But there are hugely talented artists everywhere you look, for every taste, smart people with a point of view. It’s exciting’.”

A quick check of Sony Music of Canada’s site this morning reveals the following “Featured Artists”: Delta Goodrem (Australia), Incubus (USA), Jessica Simpson (USA), Switchfoot (USA), Lost Prophets (UK), Harry Connick Jr (USA), John Mayer (USA), and a little-known, obscure Canadian artist named Celine Dion. Under “New Releases”, we find: 1) Various – Oprah’s Pop Star Challenge 2004 Cast Album (USA), 2) Nas – Nas: 10 Year Anniversary Illmatic Platinum Series (USA), and 3) Shakira – Live & Off The Record (Columbia, South America.) Aggressively promoting new Canadian music??? As for Edmonton, we haven’t had a major artists in pop music emerge from this city for decades, and there is no excuse for this. I’ve played in bands and with individual artists in town since the mid-1980s – believe me, there is Major Talent in this city, but Big Music continues to ignore it. (PS: Remember, you have seven days to read the column here before it self-vaporizes!)

:: This is too cool. I’m a fan of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. On Eric Alterman’s blog, I saw a link to FootnoteTV, which is a site that provides analysis of a very select group of television shows, including TDS, SNL, West Wing, Law & Order, and a few more. FootnoteTV is part of Newsaic. The site is written and produced by Stephen Lee, a journalist/lawyer, whose intention is to focus on issues rather than breaking news:

“My ultimate goal here is to create a kind of Internet journalism that reaches out to modern audiences in new ways. Ultimately, I want to get people more involved in the news, especially younger people, the kind of people that newspapers and television keep losing. The answer is not more channels or simpler stories; it lies in new perspectives and tools. I expound more on this at length in the Site FAQ.”

So to return back to the beginning, fans of Jon Stewart can read Stephen Lee’s footnotes to each episode here, in which Lee provides background and information on the topics presented in each show. My question: where does he find the time and energy to maintain such a detailed site?

5 Responses to “Morons in Music Stores, FootnotesTV”

  1. Steve Says:

    Although music is feeling the brunt of filesharing at the moment, that won’t last for long. The increasing viability and availability of Ebooks (yeah, I read them), and the relative ease of copying plain-text regardless of protection methods, means that book publishers will soon feel the pain. And text is a heck of a lot easier to store, upload and download than music. These industries need to deal with information sharing in a realistic way. It’s going to happen. Might as well take advantage of it. Allow basic products to be distributed free. Provide value-adds to encourage the purchasing of the full product. Heck, most of the time I’d shell out the cash anyway. Reading about the music industry’s efforts to crush filesharers just pisses me off, and I don’t even download the stuff.

  2. Jena Says:

    I tend to look for the old and out of date too – like when my friend Catherine was looking for the original Terminator soundtrack. But one album I wish I had downloaded was the new Norah Jones, for two reasons: one, because then I would have known it was so blanc-mange boring before I shelled out good money for it; and two, because it’s got such freaking agressive anti-copy protection on it, it “may not play in some car stereos” (their words). Well, isn’t that special?

    Most musicians I know love the whole idea of downloading – they realize that getting their name, and more importantly, their music, out to people is what counts. If you like a band or an album, you will seek them out, see them live, buy their previous/current/new albums.

  3. Hot Abercrombie Chick Says:

    I always knew that music downloading didn’t hurt record sales. True, I don’t buy music anymore… but that’s because I don’t have any money, not because I can get it for free. Not that I would ever download illegal music of course;)

  4. darcy Says:


    Let’s here it for us musical genius Edmontonians!

    Now get down here to SoFLa so we can record our record-breaking album and expose the canadian industry’s lack of attention to the international media!

    (sorry…must be that edge coming out again 🙂 )

  5. randy Says:

    Darcy, don’t tempt me… 😉

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